Icarus Witch – Enjoying the RideThursday, 16th November 2023
Photo: Aubrianna Myers
Thoroughly enjoying a twenty-year career, Icarus Witch continual stretch their creative muse this deep into their career with their first concept album in No Devil Lived On. The record encompasses a heavy metal base with plenty of progressive, power, and AOR-tinged elements, a fantastic story foundation while also accentuating the need for brilliant songwriting and performances. Because in the end, if you can’t capture an audience through intrinsic hooks, melodies, or harmonies, what will they retain and return to? We spoke to bassist Jason Myers for this enlightening conversation about the making of the record, the sci-fi meets occult/fantasy concept and inspiration, how the band feels in a comfortable spot career-wise to not be chasing fame/fortune, AI discussion, what Cleopatra Records has meant to the band all these years as a label, and what’s left on the bucket list to accomplish for the group.
Dead Rhetoric: No Devil Lived On is the latest Icarus Witch album – an occult sci-fi concept record. Can you discuss the process of work behind this record from initial ideas to recordings and finalization – and where do you see this record sitting in the catalog next to previous Icarus Witch discography?
Jason Myers: This album began back in 2019, the year after our previous record Goodbye Cruel World came out. At the time… there had an always been an empty checkmark next to concept album in our list of things that we’ve done over the years, but we did not set out to do a concept album. Some of the songs in the early going started to take on more of a fantasy realm vibe. It was definitely an organic progression. The first song was done, and it was more of a story telling approach, I think. After the first one was done, it felt like there were some characters developing that could be expanded upon and didn’t really have their entire story told in one sitting. Well, let’s do the 2112 thing – a mini-trilogy or something, more manageable to kind of dip our toes into an epic category. And it just snowballed from there, the story unfolded in my mind as I was writing these characters. I sat back and let the (characters) tell me where to take them. That was challenging and a lot of fun, different for us.
Normally you create nine or ten songs together, and then people will say, this one is the strongest, this needs to go first. We had to really make sure every song was as strong as possible, because the story dictated what order they would go in. We didn’t write all the music for these songs chronologically. We had to say this (song) was going to be the second song as it’s the second chapter of the tale. And that took a leap of faith from everyone. Originally it started out organic in how it came together. If we could do this for three songs, I challenged myself to do this for the entire album. There is a way to do it, and the fact that as we were in the early stages of the writing, 2020 happened. All the world events that came rushing at us like that, I hate to use blessing in terms of the pandemic, but we were all put on pause with our lives. There wasn’t any sort of distractions for a long time. If not now, when? We had a good two year stretch that everything we were experiencing in our lives was channeled into this beast and being breathed into this creature that took on a life of its own.
In terms of where it sits in our canon. That remains to be seen, I guess. As is the case previously, we all think this is the strongest (album). I know that can be the case with any band, but I feel if you don’t say that, then what are you doing? (laughs). You always have to push yourselves; we are twenty years into this, and this is our seventh release. You have to push yourself, so I’ll take Andrew’s word on this, as he’s more of a newcomer. When he says this is the strongest Icarus Witch (album) to date, he’s not tooting his horn or the band’s horn, he was a fan for the band for a long time, but he thinks this is the strongest record that we’ve done. And he’s now one of the guys in the band for the past five years as well. We all feel very confident about the music and the story. We are proud of it, and hope people get some enjoyment out of this as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you have specific benchmark concept records in mind from say Iron Maiden, King Diamond to Queensrÿche that you took into consideration when it came to the dynamic ebb and flow of the atmosphere and content to this album? Because it’s not as easy as it appears to keep a listener interested and engaged from first track to last with all the elements at play…
Myers: That’s a very good point. Benchmark – in my mind, based on our little subgenre of the world, Mindcrime is the benchmark. I looked at that album as our generation’s Pink Floyd – The Wall. And to a degree, I think Queensrÿche did that as well. I’m not saying I put our music on the same level as Mindcrime or Abigail as you mentioned. Those first two solo records for King Diamond were amazing. I would say that Mindcrime in a way was my north star in a sense that when that album came out, there was a single for each song it seemed like. Before the album came out, when the album came out, a while after the album was out. They shot a lot of videos; it became a juggernaut. What I got from that is all of those songs weren’t popular because of this cool story that Tate came up with, but they were really at the apex of their songwriting. I think that was sort of paramount for us to acknowledge that not everyone will sit down and listen to this from start to finish. I venture that most people will not based on the listening habits of most music fans these days.
We had to be cognizant of that going into this. This can’t be dependent on somebody taking fifty minutes of their day, when you are lucky to get fifty seconds sometimes (laughs). Each song had to have it’s own life, it’s own set of standards. Mindcrime is one of those concept records that really did that, you can drop the needle on any part of the record and be treated to a melodic metal masterpiece. What that forced us to realize is that song number nine had to have as much attention put into it as song number two. I won’t say we’ve ever shortchanged any songs; we give everything we can to them. On this album, we incorporated elements we had never done before: narration, there are times where that can come off as really cheesy. When you are putting all your chips in the theatrical landscape, you sort of have to have some bravado. If you like the story as a fan of sci-fi, the occult, or just of heavy metal, then good on you. If you don’t, we are still going to roll the dice and give it our best shot anyway.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you give a brief synopsis of what the storyline is about? And do you believe Andrew’s ability as a singer made things much easier for you to figure out the right range and melodies to achieve on this record?
Myers: Yeah, the elevator pitch. I’ve been working on that for a while, because I’m sort of a wordy fellow. Ultimately, it’s a story about an environmental stewardship, and our taking an active role in not letting the planet become hell is very easy to see all around us at times. Whether that’s from societal collapse, political collapse, environmental collapse, all of these unpleasant things: pollution, global warming, all this stuff we hear about every day. What I wanted to do was create a story that basically said, alright – wake up, be active, take a role in this and not just be an observer on this planet that we live on, because that’s a sure way to be caught up in the current and be flushed down the toilet into oblivion. If you have some courage of your convictions, some sort of ethical compass that you incorporate into your life, you can push back against the things that are making the world not a great place to be. It’s really easy for people to feel overwhelmed and feel small, what can I do?
This story, there’s a lot of different things going on in the story. That’s sort of the overarching theme. We need to push back against greed for the sake of accumulating wealth at the expense of all of the planet. That story is being told in a way through – there’s a story in modern occultism called Aradia – or the Gospel of the Witches that was written by an author named Charles Godfrey Leland. I had close ties with this story set in Italy a long time ago. The story of Gospel of the Witches is one of this witch queen that was sent down to earth to lead the people – a bad ass rebel put here to empower the people. Whether it was the peasants to revolt against the upper echelon, I was reading that and engrossed in that. I was reading that when we needed to come up with stuff for the album. I didn’t want to write a song set hundreds of years ago. I wanted to capture this essence to unite the greater good in people, to push back against the things that are keeping us down or making the world a hell. It’s a modern reimagining of that story, rather than set in Europe it’s set in the near future. The enemy is corporate robber barons who are just looking for planet b while they put this one to waste.
Hopefully that gives you a sense of the underlying theme of the characters and the story. It’s broken down into chapters, of the plot that comes together to battle these forces and what happens once it all goes from earth into the galaxy, that’s when it takes on a sci-fi angle to it. You have some AI thrown in there, that’s been infiltrating people’s lives, so it’s not too hard to believe it will be even more advanced in the future. In my mind I’m thinking, there’s a potential that deity will take the form of AI, and there are neo futurists here that believe this as well. I don’t come from the position of AI being all bad. I look at it as a tool, this is happening, whether you want it to or not. AI right now, everybody is freaked out about it, but what if we can harness this for the better of humanity? Not everybody would agree with that.
I’ve never had any doubt about (Andrew’s) range and ability. What I think made Andrew the right singer for this at the right time was his open-minded attitude. There are a lot of singers in this world that if you came to them with these far-out ideas, and said, ‘alright- here me out… space witches!’. They would be like, what are you talking about? I want to sing about metal stuff. What’s more metal than witches doing battle in other dimensions? Andrew, he’s got a similar mind for sci-fi, the occult, and it’s place in metal and music. After the initial meeting where I told the guys about my ideas where we would invoke Dio’s spirit and meld it with George Lucas. Andrew was on board from day one, and that was a big relief for me. No matter what I wrote about, or what twists and turns came about, he was going to deliver it with extreme courage and bravado. And he did. It still amazes me. Every time I got a new demo back from Andrew, it was amazing. Quinn and I will put music down, redo it, analyze it and perfect it. Most of what you hear from Andrew, he’s got things down to an art, there was no room or need for any improvement. I’m not used to seeing that from singers, he’s just able to really get it from square one and that’s a gift and a lot of fun to be in a band with someone that can nail it like that right out of the gate.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned in our last interview that you are in a pretty good place as a band, because you are writing from your souls and for yourselves without necessarily needing certain sales to achieve success. When do you think you arrived at this epiphany – and is that why you may take more time between releases to ensure that higher level of quality control?
Myers: I think I came to that epiphany after the Rise album in 2012. With Rise, it was such a different creature. The band lineup was totally different than it has been on any other album, Quinn and I being the only consistent (members) from then until now. At that point, we probably still felt like this could be a viable financial career. At that same time in the industry, it was shrinking all around us. CD sales were going down, vinyl hadn’t hit its resurgence yet. Bands like us that had been around for over ten years, we were in this weird spot where we were more well-known, more popular, playing more shows, but making less money. Everything on the road was costing more. Hotels that used to be $45 on the side of the highway were starting at $100-$120. You hear things like, bands make their money on the road… have you been on the road lately? (laughs). If you see what bands make versus what it costs to get around from town to town, I think that’s part of the reason that festivals have become such a big thing in the states finally.
When we put all our chips on the table, took some chances with each album, and it paid off in some ways. I could still tell with all the touring we did, we would have to come back from the road and find other ways to supplement our income. In my mind, if that is the way forward for all underground metal bands – for a band at our level, it was sort of freeing to say if this is the case, and I no longer have this pressure to make x amount of dollars for things to be a failure, then you have to think about what you are doing this for. A pure love and passion for creating this kind of music, exercising these creative things that come into your mind and soul. From 2012 there was a big gap after that record, I moved to Salem, the band was pushing the boulder up the hill. We needed a hard reset – that was restructuring, rebranding, getting back to our roots. Quinn and Andrew already had a working relationship through Ironflame. Andrew had the same sort of approach. He’s in so many projects, but he balances it so well. He’s a key member of Brimstone Coven too, and a lot of other little projects. He owns a tattoo parlor, he’s a machine. He looks at the music business the same way. We are veterans enough to be wise about our business choices. But we are also savvy enough to know that sometimes if you are not bound by profit and loss statements, then you can have a little more fun with this.
When we go to Europe, we are having the time of our lives, festivals, seeing new countries, new cities, meeting new people. We are not coming home with a lot of money in our pockets from that. The costs of international flights are ridiculous, but we do it for the experience that we get, and because we believe in the art and music we make. There are other bands further up the ladder than us that do have to work on strictly a profit and loss margin, and they are the ones cancelling these tours. If we break even or spend some of our own money… Twisted Tower Dire, back in 2003 I met those guys when I was still working at Cleopatra. They were playing at Wacken, and I flew out to there as an employee. I went out there, they played one of the side stages and I hung out with them. I had to think about how it was feasible. I remember it was Tony, rest in peace, that told me they do this as a vacation. We go to play festivals in Europe, and a lot of times the families can come along. That flipped my way of thinking about things. I can’t think of a better way to do a vacation than through music.
No one is breathing down our necks for the next hit single. People want a good quality album, a sincere band, and get in the van to go to a show if it makes sense, even if it’s nine hours away. I think we are still in a good place, and maybe even a better place. We have been all over the world a couple of times. We put less pressure on this, enjoy each other’s company more. I drove myself insane in the past, I was constantly thinking why don’t you care as much as I do? As you get older, that becomes less important. We are all professional musicians, as long as everyone does their homework, we’ll be prepared, and the show will be great. In the old days, it was the old mentality of everyone pulling their weight.
Dead Rhetoric: How has your approach and abilities as a bassist changed from your initial development as a musician to how you feel about your technique currently? Do you feel like you are consistently learning and evolving at your craft?
Myers: When I was starting out as a musician, I was simply in awe of hitting certain technical milestones. Things like making my fingers go where I wanted to and play in time. Or the ability to get a melody that was in my mind onto the fretboard and into the world. Those little magics are what kept the dream alive as a developing musician. I went through a phase in the early stages of the band where I was maybe overplaying sometimes or always going for the unusual or clever route. One problem with that is that when you create excessively progressive music it’s not just that initial struggle to get the song recorded, you then have to grapple with those difficult sometimes illogical passages show after show, year after year. As I’ve matured in my playing, I’ve come to believe that the space between the notes can often say more than the notes themselves. I’m now far more likely to lay into the pocket and find a gnarly groove that will get heads bobbing than to see what sort of obscure harmonic scales I can fit into every run. I definitely write for the song now, not just for myself or my ego as a musician.
Dead Rhetoric: With a lot of the world discussing the future impact and implications of AI, what are your thoughts regarding this medium – as you do use it to a certain extent on this new record through some Midjourney illustrations?
Myers: Ah, yes, I touched on this in my previous response, but I’ve been looking for ways that I can add AI to my palette as another tool of expression. I don’t see it as a crutch or as evil. It enabled me to create and produce far more detailed artwork within the CD booklet, for example. Some might say that this sort of AI is taking work away from human illustrators, but in this case, I wouldn’t have had the budget to hire an illustrator to do the level of art I wanted. And I’m not that adept at traditional art to do it myself. So, what we settled on was a hybrid. The front cover art was done by my wife, Aubrianna, using Photoshop. The inside panels were begun by me using Midjourney as a foundation, then I took each one into Photoshop and customized every aspect adding color, symbols, additional elements, etc. The end result was that I was finally able to produce the type of booklet fitting of a concept album but with a DIY budget.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to create and teach a high school or college level course about any subject outside of music, what would you like to create as a course and why do you think this is important for people to learn?
Myers: Wow- that’s an awesome question. I would say… if Professor Myers. My father actually was a teacher, he was a science teacher. I didn’t necessarily inherit that gene, but I do teach in my profession and Quinn is actually a teacher in his career as well, music instructor. It would probably be teaching some of the messages that I’m subliminally putting into this album. My personal spirituality with witchcraft, I’ve always been drawn to that form of paganism because it’s an earth-centered spirituality. I see outside my window there’s a forest, trees, I see animals. I feel I am a part of that. I go out into the woods all the time, looking into nature, looking at the ecosystem. I try to grow food, I think a lot of it is because we as a society take for granted how our food comes to us, how our entertainment comes to us. We’ve become so detached from our basic nourishment. We are a part of this interconnected web. I don’t have a green thumb, and it’s hard to get even a tomato to grow. I want to eat organic; I don’t want to put chemicals into my body. You look at this challenge, maybe the indigenous people are way more advanced than we give them credit for. The colonizers who came over and made their way across the land, a lot of times they were looking at the people living off the land as savages. This is all backwards. People in generalized society could benefit from being more mindful of their repercussions of everything they do. Throwing out the trash – just because it gets picked up and put out of your sight doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Recycling isn’t just a be all and end all.
My course would be some sort of mix of earth-based spirituality 101. Neopagan ecology as a means for planetary survival and human evolution. With Professor Myers.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been a part of the Cleopatra Records roster since 2007’s Songs for the Lost album. What have you enjoyed most about their staff, their approach to promotion, and their commitment to Icarus Witch even through the changing landscape of the music industry?
Myers: Actually, we’ve been with Cleopatra since the beginning, since our Roses On White Lace EP because that came out on Magick Records, an imprint that I created through Cleopatra Records. The reason that I’ve stayed with the label since 2004 is because we understand and trust one another. Since I came from a music business background before launching my own band, I knew what to realistically expect from a label and what I was on the hook for delivering myself. When I was doing A&R for a living a lot of musicians were under the impression that they would send a demo, get signed on the strength of their music and label would scoop them up and magically make them stars. I never had stars in my eyes. I knew that getting signed essentially meant that you now had a larger bank to loan you money for the things you needed as a band and that I could lean on the expertise of specialists to assist with various aspects of our career (manufacturing, distribution, promotion, etc.).
Because I realized early on that an advance from any label is in fact a loan that you’re responsible for paying back through royalties, it made me want to work more, not less, to get the band where I felt it could go. It certainly made me want to become more frugal with budgets and learn more aspects of the industry so that I could do publicity as needed or radio promotion, or graphic design. All of these skills I developed so that I could become a more proactive partner in my musical career. The team at Cleopatra knows this and they know that I’m going to hustle and carry my weight each release, so they get behind me. We have an understanding and it’s worked for many years.
I appreciate that if I have a question about any facet of the band, I have a team of people I can reach out to and get a response and a solution almost immediately. I’ve never taken that for granted because I came from the other side of those calls and emails from artists.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s left on the bucket list for Icarus Witch (or yourself personally) that you want to accomplish over the next say three to five years?
Myers: Depending on where you start the timeline, 2024 is our twenty-year mark from the time we put out our first music as Icarus Witch. I’m proud of the longevity of the band and all who’ve contributed to the journey. I’d like to honor that legacy with some sort of reissue releases as well as a compilation of some music that we’re proud of but in some cases never saw a full release. I’d like to see those early records put onto vinyl because we didn’t start doing that until the last album and now there’s a market for it. I also have boxes full of videotapes, live audio, and memorabilia that should probably get digitized and put into some sort of viable time capsule, whether that’s as a behind-the-scenes documentary or as bonus material for the aforementioned reissues. Maybe just some fun content for our sites.
I’ve also always wanted to do an acoustic album. There’s something so challenging yet rewarding about stripping away the layers and effects and finding out how your songs fare around a fire or in a more intimate setting. I think it would be fun to do an acoustic record of new songs, perhaps something a bit more tribal and raw, and then play a run of simple shows where we don’t have to lug heavy amplifiers and huge drum kits around. Just show up to a coffee house, an indie store, or a gathering in the woods and play songs, bardic style. That would do my pagan soul some good. Not to mention my back.